Published September 1, 2001. From Cook's Illustrated.
Are expensive colanders worth the dough?
Every year, Americans consume more than a billion pounds of pasta, and it is likely drained in a colander before it hits the sauce. A colander is essentially a perforated bowl designed to allow liquid to drain through the holes. In our initial survey of models, we were not surprised to find colanders made from a range of materials: plastic, enameled steel, stainless steel, anodized aluminum, and wire mesh (which is like a screen). What did surprise us—and how—was the range of prices. Who would have thought that you could drop almost $110 on a simple colander, especially in light of the price tag on the least expensive contestant, just $10?
We tested the colanders objectively by draining pounds and pounds of cooked spaghetti, orzo, and frozen baby peas in each one. Early in the testing, we splashed scalding water and hot pasta out of a tiny 3-quart model by pouring it too fast from the cooking pot, so we eliminated that size from the running. The 4- to 7-quart models performed on par, so we included them all in the lineup.
Most colanders on the market come with one of two types of base, either a circular metal ring attached to the bottom, on which the bowl sits pedestal-style, or individual feet soldered to the bottom of the bowl. No matter which type it is, the base should be unfailingly stable to prevent spills. Our research and reading on colanders consistently noted the superiority of the ring over the feet, claiming that a colander on feet is less stable because it touches the ground in only three or four spots. That sounded like a reasonable theory to us until we tested the models in the group with feet. These colanders were perfectly stable. During none of the tests did either one tip and spill its contents. Similarly, and as we expected, the colanders with ring bases also enjoyed total stability. In our experience, then, though most colanders on the market have ring bases, you needn’t shy away from a model with feet if that’s what you happen to find.
We also expected that the size, placement, and pattern of the drainage holes would be key for quick, efficient draining. Several of the colanders had the look we expected, that of a metal or plastic bowl with perforations arranged in either straight lines, starbursts, or circles; the rest had more unusual designs. All of the colanders met, or came darn close to meeting, our standards, although the traditional colanders with larger holes did allow some orzo to slip through.
Pricing and subtle quirks and differences in the colanders determined our final lineup.